Shortfalls in construction industry to be addressed
The government has decided to go ahead and fast track the importation of foreign labor despite strong opposition from Construction Site Workers General Union and the labor Department’s labor advisory board having earlier promised to, subject applications to greater scrutiny.
A task force has been set up that will vet the merits of applicants for approval by the Labor Advisory Board shortening processing time from around eight to six months. The reform comes on calls by industry leaders who had expressed their fears that Hong Kong is facing a far greater manpower shortage than reflected in official projections. They say the shortfall amounts to tens of thousands of workers in three key sectors identified recently by the government and argued that the previous labor importation scheme was too rigid and time-consuming and was in need of urgent reformed.
The MTR, which says it needs workers to build several rail extensions, will be represented in the task force. However The Construction Site Workers General Union urged the board to reject the MTRC’s application to import labor. It said many projects are nearly completed and many workers do not have jobs despite having the skills. A spokeswoman for the MTRC was earlier quoted as saying: “The MTR Corporaton always encourages contractors to employ local labor, but the decision on employment made by the contractors is subject to the need and genuine difficulties of finding suitable technical workers in local market.”
Thomas Ho On-sing, president of the Hong Kong Construction Association and chief executive of Gammon Construction. had previously said that he was very worried about the government being unable to see the problem the industry was facing.
Figures from the Census and Statistics Department showed there were 82,542 construction site workers across the city as of June 2013, with 1,025 vacancies. A report last year projected that manpower demand would rise by 1.9 per cent on average each year up to 2018. But Ho said a later survey conducted by his association found a vacancy rate of 15 per cent – meaning a shortfall of more than 10,000 workers. He had also stated that government expenditure on infrastructure projects in 2013 had soared from about HK$20 billion in 2008 to HK$70 billion, which should have shed light on the pace of manpower demand.
Commissioner of Labour Donald Tong Chi-keung has been quoted as saying
the plan will apply only to public-works projects and workers from 26 construction trades and that the standards for assessing applications for labour imports have not changed
Tong went on to say the plan will not replace the existing mechanism and that local workers will still have priority. He said the department will continue to post job advertisements for four weeks to attract locals before importing workers from elsewhere “These include not being able to find workers locally; that provision of training is of no use in attracting workers; wages have to be at market levels and that there is a genuine need for labour”
The board will continue to advise the government on whether it should approve such applications, he said. Approval of labor importation will be done by the board.
Tong said the department will keep updating and reviewing the categories, salary level and manpower needs of the 26 trades listed while those out of the list will have to follow general application procedures.